The best innovations and features on Android devices have often been refined by key Android manufacturers working together. Multitasking features that were once only available on Samsung phones have been built into the operating system so that all large screens can take advantage of them. Manufacturers launched many camera features that have now been adopted by the core operating system. Even the renewed Wear OS was built in collaboration between Samsung and Google.
Still, each Android manufacturer takes its own approach to wearables. For a while, it seemed that a tight integration between Samsung and Google – led mainly by the latter to prevent the former from further developing its own Tizen OS – would result in a true Apple Watch competitor. The hope was that we would finally have Wear OS-powered devices that could challenge the Apple Watch, a hope that for me was dashed when Google launched the Pixel Watch last year.
Comparing the Galaxy Watch 6 and the Apple Watch, and the Pixel Watch 2 and the Apple Watch, it’s clear that we’re still waiting for a true Apple competitor. Here’s why Samsung and Google need to work together to build this.
Integration is the key
One reason the Apple Watch works so effectively is that the tight integration with the iPhone allows Apple to control the experience at both the watch and phone level. There’s only one app—Apple Health—that’s a central conduit for all your health data. Your iPhone is essential to the Apple Watch experience; the two devices work as one.
On an Android phone, it’s a different experience. Instead of seamless integration between the Pixel Watch 2 and the Galaxy Z Fold 5, you have two competing experiences that both try to be the single source of truth. Google launched its Health Connect app to try to bridge these gaps, but even that works better when used with the Google Fit app compared to the Samsung Health app.
Android has always offered different choices, but in this choice comes Apple-like decisions about which nested ecosystem to bet on.
The Galaxy Watch 6 Classic is my favorite Android-compatible smartwatch, but the Pixel Watch 2 takes better health metrics. OnePlus Open makes my Android foldable, which means that three manufacturers—each with their own goals—must work together very closely to make my device choices work as seamlessly as the iPhone and Apple Watch do.
With choices comes decisions, and while the dream is that you can mix and match those choices, the reality is that it works best to stick to a manufacturer’s ecosystem.
What Google would offer a combined portable
Samsung’s biggest problem is one it can’t solve, at least not on its own. The US is the most sought-after market for technology dominance, and being an American company offers a distinct advantage.
HIPPA laws levy huge fines on companies that fail to meet exacting standards to protect an individual’s health data. Furthermore, the US Department of Justice and departments such as CFIUS can impose bans on any foreign company that falls due to ever-increasing national security concerns. As Huawei discovered, these bans can topple even the largest foreign companies.
Samsung has great ambitions in its vision for health in its products. I spoke with the company’s executives last year, and the conversation revealed an Apple-like future roadmap that includes all the health features I hope for. It took a year from that meeting to the latest announcement that Samsung Health would soon sync data from your medical provider.
At the same time, Google makes questionable decisions about which features to place behind a paywall. While Samsung offers a full suite of sleep features for free — including helping you build your sleep profile — built in partnership with the National Sleep Foundation, Google hides many of the same features behind its $10-per-month Fitbit Premium paywall.
In an ideal world, Google would give a partner like Samsung two key advantages: help with US regulators and the ability to incorporate all the necessary features at the OS level to provide the widest range of device support. Also, the Pixel Watch 2 has a great heart rate monitor, and I’d love to see Google influence a future wearable with the right hardware choices.
What Samsung brings to the table
Samsung is the perfect partner for a tightly integrated experience due to its sheer scale. It’s the largest smartphone maker in the world, offers an amazing range of products and has the marketing budgets – and know-how – to build and promote a next-generation experience.
The current generation of Wear OS is also proof that Google needs Samsung. The company built it in partnership with Samsung, with the added benefit that Samsung bought the best parts of Tizen over to Wear OS and ended up working on its own platform. Samsung offers scale, which is necessary to challenge the Apple Watch.
Samsung’s scale is more than just marketing budgets and product volume. Samsung is more well-known and trusted than Google for hardware. Samsung also crucially understands its target customers better than Google and has deeper relationships with independent developers and associations that can be leveraged to build products that deliver tangible value.
Wear OS needs collaboration
I’ve long held the belief that the current Wear OS is a symbol of Google finally admitting that it can’t compete directly with Apple. The early years of Wear OS saw Android wearables follow the Android phone ecosystem by adapting existing platforms or building entirely new ones.
Google “focused” on Wear OS, if a clear lack of focus could be considered focus; Samsung built a powerful platform in Tizen that had no developer support; Huawei and others used a combination of Wear OS proper, a forked version of Android, or a myriad of other platforms. It was the wild west, and it feels like we’re returning to the same place, this time with hardware.
The answer seems obvious, but it goes against the inherently competitive nature of capitalism. Ultimately, Samsung and Google need to work together – because failure to do so will result in Apple extending its already nearly unattainable lead.
Google Pixel Watch 2
The Google Pixel Watch 2 is the sequel to Google’s first self-branded smartwatch. It offers the most advanced heart rate sensor of any wearable I’ve tried, excellent battery life, and great integration with Fitbit.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic
$370 400 USD Save $30
Samsung’s latest Galaxy Watch 6 Classic offers the most refined Wear-OS wearable I’ve tried. Its approach to sleep is one of the best and it is one of the most complete wearables on the market.
Apple Watch Ultra 2
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 sets the standard for every smartwatch manufacturer to try to match. The Pixel Watch 2 and Galaxy Watch 6 Classic try to offer the same integration, but the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is still the best.
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